Change At Wake Forest

Change At Wake Forest

The Wake Forest football players are not walking around Spring camp with t-shirts with a theme on them like last year. If they were wearing them, maybe the theme would be, “When the change was made uptown.” With the proper acknowledgment of Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics, there is a lot of change at Wake Forest in the offensive line.

When you have a roster full of fifth, sixth, and even seventh-year players, sooner or later the calendar turns to a new page. It becomes time for the fresh blood to take over starting roles even if that infusion is coming from guys who have been there for four years already.

Last year’s offensive line was often touted for the huge number of starts they had together as a unit. But 2022 starters Loic Ngassam Nya, Sean Maginn, and Je’Vionte Nash finally used up their college eligibility. That’s 3/5 of a starting unit that had been together through a few dozen games.

Loss Of Starters But not Experience

Michael Jurgens, is the newest of the now-old, grizzled veterans. He says the offensive line for 2023 should not be mistaken for a group of neophytes. Nick Sharpe, George Sell, Luke Petitbon, and others have gotten their fair share of snaps, even if it was not as starters. So while there is a sense of replacing some, it comes with a sense of familiarity. “I think it is kind of a misconception that we are young,” Jurgens said. “Really we are pretty experienced and pretty old. We just don’t have a lot of guys with starts.”

Change comes for Jurgens also. He is spending Spring camp moving from center to guard. He said even with the changes he has been playing and practicing with some of the potential new starters for three years. “We have a good culture of helping each other out, supporting each other. That’s what you need to be a good o-line,” he said.

Jurgens said as one of the linemen with the most amount of starts, he feels a sense of responsibility to the rest of his linemates. “I definitely feel a responsibility to help bring them along and make them the best player they can be.”

Sharpe Impact

One of the recipients of that leadership is Nick Sharpe. The redshirt sophomore saw plenty of snaps last season but is expected to move into the starting lineup this season. With redshirts and the Covid year for several, Sharpe says he had plenty of time to get in his work while also biding his time waiting for his shot to start. “Even with those older guys in front of us, we still felt like we had to compete. We were always told we were one play away in case any of them went down,” Sharpe told us this week.

He said that Jurgens, along with veteran Spencer Clapp help guide the potential new starters along, even though the “new guys” have been around a few years. “They help us out, but they don’t make us feel like we’re not experienced,” Sharpe said. “They communicate with us the same way they would with the other guys, (the starters from the previous years).

The New Leader

Regardless of the interchangeable pieces that wind make up the offensive line, the other change is the one most will hone in on. Mitch Griffis is running the offense. And with his skill set being considerably different than his predecessor, Sam Hartman, the offense is likely to look at least a little different. Schemes are schemes, but the coaching staff has already acknowledged the need to take advantage of Griffis’ specific attributes. That means occasionally moving the pocket for him and getting him out on the edge.

Tell anyone in a Wake Forest uniform that Hartman was primarily a pocket passer, and they treat it like you are saying their brother is ugly. But it is an undeniable truth that Griffis has the better speed to the outside. He is also quicker to take off when the pocket breaks down with the ability to pick up meaningful yards.

That also shifts the responsibility for the offensive line, “new” guys and all. “We’re blocking for two to three possibilities every time,” Jurgens told us. Sharpe said, “Mitch does step out of the pocket more, but I have total confidence in his game.”

The Game Is The Game

“Our offense is a system, and we are going to run that system no matter who is back there,” Jurgens said. “I’ll say this again and again with Mitch. There is no drop-off in terms of communication and preparation. He’s prepared like a starter since day one”

Jurgens told us the story of Griffis starting his prep during the Covid quarantine when everyone got sent home. Griffis had been in school for just a short time. But Jurgens said the quarterback was calling him frequently to ask questions about formations and plays. He was making a study guide for himself even though the team could not meet.

Sharpe said there is something different about blocking for Griffis. “I love his energy. I love his aura. And I love his confidence. I love how he allows the o-line to be relaxed. We can see when we might be going into a tough situation, but we can see his confidence. It helps us be calm.”

The talent is there at the skill positions for Wake this year. But with a relative newcomer in terms of starts at quarterback, the responsibility for so much lies with Jurgens and the four on either side of him.


Editor’s Note: A previous version of the article had Dion Bergen, Jr. on the offensive line when he played defensive line for Wake Forest.


Change At Wake Forest

Photo courtesy: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports